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Two-day virtual event celebrates, supports Black trans faith community

Feb. 23, 2021, 5:00 PM

Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi and J Mase III, co-editors of "The Black Trans Prayer Book"
Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi and J Mase III, co-editors of “The Black Trans Prayer Book”

The co-editors of The Black Trans Prayer Book, an interfaith collection of stories, poems, prayers, meditations and more about the experiences of trans and nonbinary Black people, were the featured guests during a two-day virtual event hosted by the Vanderbilt community.

Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi and J Mase III provided a historical overview celebrating the livelihoods and communal care of Black trans people from pre-colonization to present day in a Feb. 18 workshop titled “Where White Supremacy, Transantagonism and Religious Violence Collide.” The impact of colonization on trans communities often emphasizes conformity rather than autonomy, inspiring the co-editors to compile The Black Trans Prayer Book as a spiritual tool for trans people to reclaim their power. A reading, performance and discussion of The Black Trans Prayer Book followed on Feb. 19.

“It was liberating to be in a space, albeit virtual, where being oneself didn’t raise an eyebrow—in which I didn’t have to worry about how I was being perceived,” said Dahron Johnson, a Vanderbilt Divinity School alumnus who attended the events. “The only expectation was to come with the fullness of myself, to just be me. The Friday night performances and readings offered powerful healing space filled with an array of voices that welcomed a beautiful, and beautifully varied, conversation.

“The historical overview the co-authors brought to the Thursday workshop was eye-opening, bringing to light the ways that trans people have worked and fought for centuries just for the simple right to be,” Johnson continued. “They also shared about those wonderful but all-too-rare moments in history when we’ve found welcome. Their presentation reminded me of what I can never hear enough: that we’ve always been here.”

The goal of the events was to create an autonomous space for Black trans people to be in community with each other. The Black Trans Prayer Book is a denouncement of transphobia and religious-based violence that aligns with the shared values of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Office of LGBTQI Life housed in the K.C. Potter Center, an entity of the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence. These groups, and the other campus partners responsible for bringing the event to the Vanderbilt community, value and uplift the lived experiences of Black trans people and are invested in supporting their needs.

“I am excited that we were able to unite with so many entities across campus to bring the editors and some of the contributors of The Black Trans Prayer Book to campus,” said Jay Bohanon, program coordinator for the Office of LGBTQI Life. “This event allowed us to uplift the voices of BIPOC trans and nonbinary people in spaces they are often excluded from while also enhancing the conversation on how to better support them. Every day we are tasked with showing up for friends who hold various marginalized identities, and this was an opportunity for members of the Vanderbilt community to move beyond words and do the necessary work.”

The Black Trans Prayer Book is a celebration and documentation of the prophetic wisdom and divine possibility of Black trans leadership in faith practice and beyond,” said Lyndsey Godwin, assistant director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality. “Black transgender and gender expansive folks have always profoundly shaped religion and spirituality, but this impact has been systematically denied by violence and erasure, particularly through colonialism and white supremacy. J Mase III and Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi brought honesty and clarity to this history and offered visionary possibilities for Black trans leadership across faith spaces. Their work is vital for all who are preparing for leadership and ministry.”

To access a recording of the virtual event, contact lyndsey.g.godwin@vanderbilt.edu.

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